horror movie

Wicked Wednesday: Catcalls (2020)

Here are the facts: being a woman can be dangerous. We’re more likely to be killed by our partners – certainly a startling amount face domestic or sexual violence. If you’re a woman of colour or a trans woman, those statistics look even more dire.

But girls are made of tough stuff. Which is why I love the final girl trope so much: pure resilience and power. Seeing the power to fight back on screen.

Which is why I think so many female directors are doing so many interesting things in the horror genre of late. (But let’s face it – we always have.) In the short film by Irish director and writer Kate Dolan, we see the final girl trope in a very twisted (and brilliant) light.

Paul is a creep. He cruises around harassing women. One night, he reveals himself to a girl on the street with her friend. But he quickly realises he messed with the wrong ladies.

When he gets home, his exhausted wife tells him that she’s about to head out the door for an extra shift. Whether or not she’s oblivious to her husband’s, er, extra-curricular activities is unclear.

Before Paul’s wife can even leave the house, a girl arrives at their door screaming for help. Paul immediately recognises the frantic girl as the one he sexually harassed earlier in the night. He panics and leaves the room, but when he returns to where the women were, he’s unable to find them.

Paul soon realises that he’s in danger, and there’s a monster eating his wife. He attempts to make it to his car, but is attacked by a woman-cat-like creature in the night.

Catcalls has a premise that reminds me of films like The Craft and Ginger Snaps. They’re films full of great female characters with loads of personality. Our monster ladies in Catcalls pack a memorable punch without have hardly any lines at all. Each withering look conveys every feeling I have ever had while harassed by men.

But this short film also reminds me of the rape-revenge genre: we’re rooting for the people dishing out the violent justice.

For being less than 10 minutes, Catcalls really resonated with me. I’m dying to tell my friends about it – to find strength in it. We might not be able to turn into cat women ourselves, but it’s certainly enjoyable to pretend that we can.

Really, I’m ready for this to be a full-length feature. Give me an hour and a half of these ladies extracting revenge. We need it.

Wicked Wednesday: Cellar Dweller (1988)

Some films have “pedigrees”. Certain names and histories attached to productions mean certain things. And film fans love to look for them. We see something is being produced by A24, and we know the film will be of a certain caliber. Is it by Mike Flanagan? Chef’s kiss. There are certain films made just to be “Oscar bait”.

Horror fans love looking for this sort of thing. Who was the director? Who was the writer? Well, they worked on Ghost Menace Pt 8: The Reckoning, but did you know they were production assistant on Don’t Ever Do Anything… Alone!?

Cellar Dweller is one of those movies that ticks a lot of fun fact boxes. It was written by Don Mancini. Directed by John Carl Buechler, who literally had a hand in almost every horror franchies ever at some point. Yvonne De Carlo plays a bitchy headmistress. And it has early scenes with Jeffrey Combs, and was distributed by Empire Pictures (of Re-Animator and Ghoulies fame).

Weirdly, Cellar Dweller isn’t quite the powerhouse you’d expect it to be with all those names attached to it. But it is still a charming, fun film.

Thirty years in the past, a comic book artist Colin Childress accidentally brings a monster to life using a Satanic book. In order to stop the beast, he sets the pages of his comic on fire. Only, he is set on fire himself.

Years later, his home has been turned into an art school where young Whitney arrives. She’s an aspiring comic book artist and a devoted fan of the late Childress. Though when she turns up at the school, she’s given a cold welcome by Mrs Briggs, who runs the school.

The school is quirky. Full of eccentric artists from all different mediums. But Whitney is a sort-of outcast due to her art.

The girl is immediately taken under the wing of Philip, another student. She begins to fill him in on Childress’s story: that he apparently killed a woman with an ax before setting himself on fire.

Though warned away from the cellar, it doesn’t take long before she breaks in. Upon entering with Philip, she opens a locked box and discovers The Book. She later begs Mrs Briggs to allow her to uses the space as her own. The older woman readily agrees, you know, as Whitney isn’t a real artist.

She begins her work in the cellar, all the while being filmed by her nemesis, Amanda. Whitney catches the other girl in the cellar and threatens her. Unbeknownst to Whitney, Amanda is trying to frame the girl as a plagiarist. But as Whitney draws Amanda being attacked, the attack occurs in the real world – and on camera.

Having freed the beast once again due to her drawings, Whitney’s classmates are attacked in the following days. The pages of the comic begin to appear by themselves as the monster gains its own initiative.

When Whitney and Philip discover the created pages, they try to save one of their classmates from her demise. But upon seeing the beast, they run away in fear.

Whitney realises she must set the pages on fire. But before she can even sit them alight, Philip is dragged into its panels.

Mrs Briggs seemingly comes to the rescue, only for Whitney to discover that Mrs Briggs is the monster. While fending off the monster, she accidentally throws a bottle of white out over a panel, only to discover that it changes the story. She writes her own happy ending and reintroduces her classmates back into the world. And all is well…seemingly.

Cellar Dweller has a certain charm. Though is someways, it doesn’t feel very much like a horror movie. There are elements of fantasy blended in that remind me more of shows like Twilight Zone (there even is a grand sense of moral written in).

This was the first film the great Don Mancini wrote. Later in the same year, Child’s Play would be unleashed on the world. It’s easy to see why Cellar Dweller is often overlooked. This attempt feels like a very straight-forward story. In some ways, it’s old fashioned (not in a bad way). You don’t really get movies written like Cellar Dweller anymore – an embodiment of the “careful what you wish for” idiom.

That being said, I really like Cellar Dweller‘s charm. I think some might find this hokey and dated, but there’s still plenty of fun within this short running time.

Wicked Wednesday: Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge (1989)

Last week I got to see Phantom of the Paradise at the Prince Charles Cinema. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen the movie on the big screen, and it’s always magnificent – one of my absolute favourite films. So why not, I thought, wash that good feeling of a good film out of my mouth with a horrible Phantom adaption?

Now. I should have been warned going in, having watched Lindsay Ellis’ two-part series on the characterisation of the phantom (watch parts one and two here). This movie is pretty much universally hated. But I cannot resist one thing…shopping malls.

I have a thing for horror movies set in shopping malls: Chopping Mall, Dawn of the Dead, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama, The Initiation (which I seem to remember more fondly than what I’d written). It’s the lure of neon lights, shopping montages and creepy, dark-lit shops.

It’s been difficult to resist the lure of Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge, despite all warnings that I should have otherwise. Should I have listened? I really should have.

Phantom of the Mall follows the rough phantom set-up: scarred man watches beautiful girl from the distance and wants to protect and possess her. He kills off people who hurt her or have harmed him in some way.

Instead of a grand opera house, though, we are entered into the world of the Midwood Mall. Melody and her pal Suzie both get jobs at the brand new shopping centre, a beacon of a new era for the town.

Of course, a year earlier the land was marred by a fire. One that killed Melody’s boyfriend, Eric. Something about the night doesn’t sit well with Melody, and she’s convinced that Eric’s house was burned down as murder (you know, in order to get land for the mall!).

The Phantom begins killing people off short after the mall’s opening. None of the deaths are particularly noteworthy. But they exist nevertheless.

Meanwhile, Melody befriends the hot journalist, Peter. He’s kind to her and begins to help her investigate the fire. He soon discovers that the man she saw the night of the fire (a white man with a religious-symbol earring), is a security guard at the mall.

But the security guard quickly realises that Melody and Peter are on to him. He alerts his boss, mall-owner Harv, and is told to deal with them. The young couple get away from the perusing guards, though, and afterwards dig up Eric’s grave – suspicious that he is the one behind the killings. Surely this is the only way to confirm that Eric is alive and the phantom!

Things quickly come to a head when Eric saves Melody from the security guard and reveals himself to her. She rejects his advances, having fallen in love with Peter. Plus Eric has a burned face and that’s like, totally ew.

Angered with the mall and Melody, Eric becomes violent. He begins his movements to BLOW UP THE MALL. But as with all things phantom, Eric meets his tragic demise while also getting his revenge.

I don’t think Phantom of the Mall is quite as bad as most people make it out to be. Sure it’s very run-of-the-mill, but it isn’t flat-out horrible. For some people it’s better to feel something than nothing at all. So if that’s what you’re measuring by, it will probably fail the test.

All of the deaths are sort of dark and indistinguishable. Though the acting is passable and the characters are…okay. There’s nothing horribly wrong here, just nothing particularly entertaining.

Weirdly one highlight was Pauly Shore, whose personality out-shined almost everyone on the cast. I’m also kind of in love with the way the film looked – a sort of dreamy, R-rated soap opera. It’s very soft and the very dictionary definition of late-80s style. Honestly, though, the best part about the entire movie was Ken Foree (who should be in everything).

If this movie had turned the cheese and camp level up to 11, this could have been a much better movie. The music put it halfway there (a weird combination of The Vandals and some really over-the-top sex scene romance music). Otherwise, this is very much your uneventful, typical 80s slasher.

Wicked Wednesday: Krampus (2015)

It’s Christmaaaaaas!

I’m sure plenty of people are feeling jaded at this time of year. I had to go into Brixton’s M&S to get stollen – I get it! (Their stollen was covered in almonds. ALMONDS!) But occasionally we need to take a step back and assess our own negativity. Is it really worth holding onto? Is that long-held grudge with that one cousin really worth it? Should you have hugged your aunt, even if she’s a bit racist?

I had to take a bit of my own advice here. After watching several weeks of average horror Christmas movies. I wasn’t really looking forward to watching another one. But I decided to take a chance on Krampus. It’s a different than the norm for a few reasons: it has a budget, the cast is amazing, and it was successful.

Sure, Krampus treads very familiar ground, but it’s (successful) twisted and fun approach sets it apart.

The Engel family are less-than-jovial at Christmas. They’re either bickering or ignoring one another. They’re not the family most in the Christmas spirit. Everyone, that is, besides little Max, who still believes in Santa Claus. He writes a letter to jolly ol’ Saint Nick in hopes that the gift he receives is his family’s unity.

But when the extended family arrive, everyone just becomes more irritable. At the dinner table, Max’s letter is read aloud by one of his cousins. He snatches the letter away after an fight, tears it up and throws the remains into the sky.

The boy’s anger calls upon the Krampus, who arrives the next day with a giant blizzard as fanfare. The family and the surrounding neighbours lose power. Max’s sister leaves to look for her boyfriend, but is killed off before she can make her return home.

The family get picked off one-by-one as they fend off the Krampus’s henchmen (in the form of demonic toys). With the help of Omi, the Engel paternal grandmother, they learn the story of the Krampus and why he’s arrived to claim them.

Will the family unite and defeat the beast? Well, the ending is certainly a twisted enough to be both horrible and satisfying. Just like Christmas, right?

The ending is easily one of my favourite parts of the movie, but I’m sure it won’t satisfy everyone. But what will satisfy most people is the performance the cast gives. Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Krista Stadler as Omi and, my personal highlight, Conchata Ferrell as the alcoholic aunt. They’re all parts of what is a treat ensemble cast.

And the movie looks good, too. It’s full of warm Christmas lights juxtaposed with the cold, winter hues of the outside world. I do love a Christmas movie that looks like it’s set at Christmas. Obvious as that is, most Christmas horror movies miss the mark on the details.

The deaths are also pretty good, but as Krampus is only rated PG-13, a lot of the gore is missing. So while it won’t be among the most bloody or graphic you can see, it will be suitable to watch with younger ones. Perhaps perfect for inducting your younger family members into the twisted family of horror? It certainly won over a lot of my non-horror-friends. I think there’s something to be said for that.

As the decade nears its end, it’s easy to look back on the Christmas horror offerings and find most of them forgettable. Krampus, on the other hand, is sure to be a holiday classic in the future joining the ranks of Black Christmas, Gremlins, and Christmas Evil. I saw one review that likened it to the dark gleefulness of Joe Dante. As a Dante fan, I’d have to heartily agree.

It’s definitely a good one. I recommend cosying up with your family on this Christmas night and watching some horror goodness. You’ve survived the holidays with each other, you at least deserve a treat.

Wicked Wednesday: Tales of Halloween (2015)

Halloween eve is finally here!

As always, the day snuck up on me faster than I could imagine. It’s been a heck of a month, so it was really nice to just sit down and watch something with some good Halloween spirit. Unfortunately for me, I chose Tales of Halloween.

Anthologies are, at the best of times, a mixed bag. There aren’t very many anthologies that I’d flat-out say I enjoy, let alone enjoy it from start to finish. Tales of Halloween is even more ambitious than the usual, as there are ten short stories! Not only are there ten films from ten different directors, but several are connect with a fairly-similar style throughout.

But when that style isn’t to your taste, it makes for a very bumpy hour and a half.

While made in 2015, this movie feels much more dated than that. Think “punks” in bad wigs listening to bad pop-punk and women in very short costumes (including one meant to be underage). And a very random cameo from Adrianne Curry. I mean, who even remembers her? These things are just…well, I’m bored by these things. It felt much more 2005 than 2015, and I had to double-check my dates again just to be certain.

There were a couple stand-outs in the pack, for me. First, I love the insanity that was “Friday the 31st”, written and directed by Mike Mendez and Dave Parker. The opening sequence is of a woman in a Dorothy costume running from a Jason Vooreehs-like killer. After the girl dies, an alien stops by planet Earth for trick-or-treating (because of course).

When the alien doesn’t get a treat from the killer, it becomes angry and possesses “Dorothy”. The killer gets his own when he must face a Deadite-style Dorothy in combat. It’s completely nuts, but it’s also hilarious and works quite well.

But my absolute favourite was Axelle Carolyn’s segment, “Grim Grinning Ghost”. One, this stars both Alex Essoe and Lin Shaye. But it’s also a great little ghost story that’s pretty effective. Oh and there’s a cute dog.

🙂

Otherwise, there were a lot of lows. Again, I don’t think it’s necessarily because they’re bad. They just aren’t my thing. 100% not my thing. There were some segments that irritated me so much, I would have loved to fast-forward them. But I didn’t because I’m a champ (also it might not far to judge things otherwise).

A lot of the themes overlapped, and I get it. There’s a great gag about creepy children and children getting scared or killed. But it was slightly overkill that six of the ten went this direction. So it’s not really surprising that the ones that didn’t go this route were the more interesting ones (though not necessarily for the better).

There’s a lot of cameos here, which is fun to see. Landis, Barbeau as the DJ, Dante, and everyone’s favourite camper Felissa Rose. But my favourite part was the inventive animated title sequence. Whoever did those did a fantastic job. Some of my favourite credits I’ve seen in a long while!

On a different note, one of the biggest disappointments was that there were only two women writing or directing in this project. Two. Perhaps if there was more of a diversity in directors, the stories would have felt a little more unique.

That being said – Halloween is nigh! May it be full of ghouls, goblins and trick-or-treats.

Wicked Wednesday: Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel (2018)

My parents were visiting Britain these past couple weeks. The last of which they stayed with me in my tiny London flat. I love my parents, but it can be difficult to find things that all of us can enjoy. Throw my husband into the mix, and it’s even more complicated.

Usually any decision making is left to me. I’m very bad at making decisions. But it must be the Halloween spirit in the air because everyone actually encouraged me to pick out horror movies.

Both of my parents are a bit…prudish (conservative?), so it’s always a tricky affair. But when I saw Hell House LLC calling to me, I thought it was time for a rewatch. It scared me enough the first time around, surely it would creep everyone else out a tiny bit.

And it was interesting seeing this movie again with sets of fresh eyes in the room. I picked up on many of the same thing as the first time: it’s a subtle build up with a slightly-confusing pay-off in the end. My family, on the other hand, got to enjoy it for the first time. My mom had to physically leave the room and didn’t come back until the ending.

So inspired by the rewatch, I decided it was time to tackle the sequel: Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel. This 2018 movie has been on my to-watch list for a long time, but had purposefully avoided it due to the mostly-negative reviews of it.

The Abaddon Hotel picks up a few years after the original events of the film. Since the release of the documentary, the interest in the Abaddon Hotel grew. But of course, with all the idiots heading into the house for dares – none came back out alive.

Enter straight-laced “investigative journalist” Jessica Fox. For some reason, despite the number of people who have disappeared, she’s determined to get into the hotel and explore things for herself.

The others dragged into her horrible plan are her fellow staff members Molly and David, and original Hell House documentary maker Mitchell (not actually in the first movie). Mitchell was a part of Diane’s team. Diane had disappeared after her interview with “Sara”, and Mitchell is rather determined to solve the mystery. Also along with them is a medium and his camera man. But don’t even bother with them, they die right away.

Much of the movie switches between several different medias: the shaky footage of Jessica’s pals inside the hotel, an TV interview of three guests included Mitchell and an idiotic politician, and the different footage of all the missing boys.

It’s rather distracting, actually. As it’s difficult to understand why we care about any of these people. The initial scenes are about a man named Jackson who went missing after breaking into the hotel. We get to see an interview with his mother that’s actually very compelling. But…it just ends there. It doesn’t matter. And that sort of sucks.

The movie’s decision not to focus on one singular story makes for a very incoherent plot. It’s as shaky as most of the camera work. Glancing back at my notes, I stopped writing after the first 15 minutes or so after realising nothing I was watching actually mattered.

Unlike the original Hell House, much of its sequel has us watching people running around scared. Do you want people running around a haunted house? Great. Then you get it for at least 50% of this movie. The climax of Hell House LLC was great because it spend most of its time building up, and the pay off was (mostly) great because of it. Say what you will about the ending.

In The Abaddon Hotel, we’re immediately shown not-so-subtle images of the cloaked figures. It’s the same scared as the first movie, but they happen straight off the bat. I can see where the idea was to terrify right away, but mostly comes across as lazy and…boring.

Hell House LLC II fails to comply with the idea that less is more. We learn too much about Hell House, which makes it less scary in many ways. If there was a need to fill in the gaps, I think a prequel would have been more interesting. The creation of “the story” is better than over-explaining something in retrospect. Seeing the answers to the first movie was, well, rather disappointing (namely: the walls).

We also learn too much about Alex, the founder of Hell House. Where his story line went was just stupid. It actually takes away from what made the first movie good. Alex apparently signed some deal with Andrew Tully, the hotel owner and cult leader who had hung himself decades earlier. I liked Alex as a character in the first movie because he was just a no-nonsense asshole. Giving him a paranormal element took away from the realism of the first movie.

There’s something that many found-footage sequels have in common: they forget to make likeable characters the second time around. We like certain found footage movies because of the believable cast. Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield. You remember the people and they look like us, thus making the world feel rounder as a whole. Alex was totally ruined for me. The new batch of characters were not interesting. So when they died, it felt more like a shrug.

In this sequel, the acting is…bad. Pretty damn bad. Straight off the bat, the first scene with Molly and Jessica is wooden and cringe-y. It immediately takes you out of a “this is real” mindset and immediately reminds you that this is all fake. And in the world of found footage, that’s a pretty big crime to commit.

As they say, “lightning never strikes the same place twice.” And that, unfortunately, is very true for Hell House. There are many familiar scares here, but they just don’t work the second time around.

Wicked Wednesday: Vampire’s Kiss (1989)

I have been in a BIG vampire mood as of late. Perhaps it’s because we can’t stop talking about Twilight at work for some reason. So when picking this week’s movie to watch, choosing one with a vampire theme was a no-brainer.

After reading through several lists, I landed on Vampire’s Kiss. It sounded great. 80s-era Nicolas Cage in a black comedy? Yes please!

Only I’ve been gravely misled.

Vampire’s Kiss is one of the most unsettling movies I’ve watched in a long time. Black comedy? Not really. Unless I’ve missed the punchline.

Cage plays Peter Loew. He’s a womaniser, an asshole, and a bit unwell. Peter spends his nights in bars and clubs, picking up women. One night he brings home a girl where they’re attacked by a bat.

At a therapy session, Peter describes that he felt somehow turned on by the experience. Not necessarily in a sexual way, but more of an awakening. Soon after, he takes another woman, Rachel, home. She seemingly bites his neck, turning him into a vampire.

As Peter believes Rachel continues visiting him for feeding, strange things begin to happen. He loses his memory and becomes increasingly more volatile. On the receiving end of this violence is Alva, a secretary at the literary agency he works at.

He continually hounds poor Alva for a old, missing contract. She’s tortured by his increasing obsession. But it’s clear that the obsession is not with the document, but torturing her.

One day Alva calls in sick. Peter stalks her by showing up at her address. He convinces her to go back into work by claiming he no longer cares about the contract. But when they return to the office, he forces her to continue the search until she finds it.

And Alva does find it. Peter, though, is less than pleased. He begins to chase her and later assaults her (and presumably rapes her).

Peter’s behaviour becomes even more erratic. He buys a pair of plastic fangs, which he uses to kill a girl at a club by “sucking her blood”. After killing the girl, he comes face-to-face with Rachel. Only Rachel isn’t a vampire. She’s very much a regular woman who has only met Peter once.

At this point, he begins to spiral even more. He begins seeing more hallucinations. He meets his dream girl, thanks to his therapist’s help (in his mind). But that soon disintegrates.

Meanwhile, Alva opens up to her brother about the assault. Rightly furious, Alva’s brother takes her into the city to take on Peter. The man, though, is very much gone. So when his death happens, it almost acts like it’s a blessing to him.

Vampire’s Kiss is incredibly heavy. In many ways, it reminds me of American Psycho. We can’t really be sure what is real and what isn’t. But we are certain by the end of the film that we cannot believe anything from Peter’s point of view.

I’m very confused by this movie. I wouldn’t recommend it. But I certainly want someone else to watch it just so I can vent.

Cage is very good here. Some people have complained that the character of Peter isn’t very sympathetic, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I don’t want to sympathise with him. While he clearly has mental health issues, we don’t need to feel sorry for him. Peter comes off as fundamentally a terrible person, with or without any conditions. Also he’s a rapist. I’ll pass on wanting to sympathise.

If you’re interested in this one, I’d go into this one with an open mind. Certainly don’t go into it expecting a comedy. But who knows, maybe it is very funny. Though it’s much more likely it will make you feel very uncomfortable and uneasy. If that’s what you like in horror, you’ll definitely find that here.

On a different note… Can I please get the vampire movie I deserve?